Environmental and health officials are testing wells around the Piedmont Triad International airport in Greensboro. They’re looking for chemicals referred to as PFOS and PFOA.
Routine testing by the city of Greensboro this summer showed the potentially hazardous chemicals were found in Lake Brandt, which feeds into the city’s water system.
Officials have installed a filtration system at the Mitchell Water Plant to combat the issue, but now they want to know if PFOS and PFOA are in people’s ground wells near the airport.
“It’s really putting rest of the jigsaw puzzle together and having a good understanding of what is that impact to wells and customers who have those wells,” Assistant Director for Greensboro’s Water Resource Department Mike Borchers said.
PFOS and PFOA were used in things like paint, cleaning products and firefighting foam since the 1950s. Even though companies voluntarily eliminated them from their products, the chemicals can remain the environment for a long time.
Borchers said it’s hard to pinpoint an exact source as to where PFOS and PFOA is around the airport.
“It’s hard for us to put our finger on it and say ‘Oh, it’s right there, it’s at the intersection of these two roads,’ because of how they've been used over this area over time,” he said.
The city of Greensboro, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Equality held a public information meeting to educate residents about the testing.
Resident Jana Lambeth lives with her husband and three children near Brush Creek where elevated levels of PFOS and PFOA were found.
“We have a well that we use for all of our household needs, drinking, cooking, bathing all of those things,” she said. ” I am concerned but I’m glad to see the city and the county are taking a proactive stance on this so that makes me feel better.”
The health risks of drinking water contaminated with PFOS and PFOA aren’t clear. Some studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that it may increase cholesterol levels, increase the risk of cancer, lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant and affect growth and behavior of infants and older children.
Rickey Langley is a medical consultant for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. He said determining if an illness or death is related to contaminated water can be tricky.
“It’s really hard for us to say, just because you have PFOS or PFOA in your water, it’s causing this problem,” he said. “That’s very hard to say.”
A person would have to drink two liters of water per day with 70 parts per trillion or more of PFOS or PFOA in it before they would see health risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Langley said people who are concerned about their levels can ask their doctors for a blood test. The results would then be compared to national norms by the CDC.
“If we detect it, you want to try to prevent that accumulation over time that you can see in the body or in the environment,” he said. “That’s why we need to be proactive once we find these compounds in the environment and try to prevent any human exposures from occurring.”